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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Blunkett condemns Berlusconi comments
David Blunkett
David Blunkett: Critical of Italian PM comments
It was offensive, inappropriate and culturally inaccurate for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to suggest the superiority of Western over Islamic civilisation, Home Secretary David Blunkett has said.

He was speaking on Friday as outrage grew in Arab countries at a time when the US is trying to reach out to many Muslim states.


It is clear that Berlusconi's remarks were offensive and offence has been taken

David Blunkett
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa had demanded a denial or apology for Mr Berlusconi's "racist" remarks.

Mr Berlusconi later insisted his words had been taken out of context and he had not meant to offend.

Anti-terrorism consensus

Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "It is clear that Berlusconi's remarks were offensive and offence has been taken.

"They were inappropriate in terms of the way in which they effect the consensus across the world in the face of terrorism, and they were culturally inaccurate.

Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi: Also compared terrorists to anti-globalisation movement
"So on those three counts I hope he will be able to clarify his position, in order to be a constructive part of the consensus to bring about justice by tackling the terrorists rather than falling out amongst ourselves."

Mr Blunkett defended Tony Blair, who avoided such strong wording when asked about the row on Thursday.

Considering the prime minister's busy schedule it would have been "ridiculous" to expect him to be properly aware of Mr Berlusconi's comments made a few hours earlier, Mr Blunkett said.

The Italian premier had been speaking following talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian president Vladimir Putin on the crisis sparked by the terrorist attacks on the US.

Controversial comments

Mr Berlusconi had said: "We have to be conscious of the strength of our civilisation; we cannot put the two civilisations on the same level.

"All of the achievements of our civilisation: free institutions, the love of liberty itself - which represents our greatest asset - the liberty of the individual and the liberty of peoples.

"These, certainly, are not the inheritance of other civilisations such as Islamic civilisation."

Aside from the Arab League, criticism has also come from Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who said: "I can hardly believe that the Italian prime minister made such statements... rather than bringing civilisations together, they could feed a feeling of humiliation."

Wrong context

Mr Berlusconi's spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, said on Wednesday his critics were taking his words out of context.

But in a sign that he was seeking to make amends, the prime minister's office announced that he would meet a delegation of Arab diplomats the following week.

Then, addressing his upper house of parliament on Friday, Mr Berlusconi said: "They have tried to hang me on an isolated word, taken out of context from my whole speech.

"I am sorry that words, badly interpreted, have offended the sensibility of my Arab and Muslim friends."

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 ON THIS STORY
Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi (in Italian)
"We should not put the two civilisations on the same level"

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See also:

27 Sep 01 | Middle East
Arabs demand Berlusconi apology
27 Sep 01 | Middle East
Straw rounds off Middle East talks
27 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iraq urges US restraint
26 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iranian leader: No help for US
26 Sep 01 | Middle East
EU woos Iran with coalition deal
25 Sep 01 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia warns of West-Islam split
17 Sep 01 | Americas
Bush seeks Muslim support
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